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Wilson Construction takes delivery of its newly certified MD 530F conversion completed by MD Helicopters. MDHI Photo

MD Helicopters details ambitious production ramp up; no plan to reboot 902 line

By Oliver Johnson | March 6, 2023

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 44 seconds.

MD Helicopters hopes to build 50 aircraft a year by 2025, as its new leadership team laid out their plan to rebuild the storied MD brand on the eve of HAI Heli-Expo 2023 after a tumultuous year of change for the manufacturer.

Wilson Construction takes delivery of its newly certified MD 530F conversion completed by MD Helicopters. MDHI Photo
MD Helicopters is working to transform the type certificate-based MD 500E to MD 530F upgrade to a Technical Bulletin. MDH Photo

“It has had a bit of a rocky heritage, but the bones of the company have always been great,” MD president and CEO Brad Pedersen told media during a pre-show press conference.

“The product has always been great. The people working there have always been great. We just need to, I think, focus on the right things.”

This focus, primarily, is on aftermarket support and making sure it has spare parts availability for the current fleet of 1,700 in-service MD aircraft flying around the globe.

The company plans to have increased stock levels of the 702 most-requested parts by the end of the year, and has made an eight-digit investment in its parts inventory.

Pedersen said the fixes required by the company were relatively simple. “We need to support the customer, get spares, get repair and overhaul turn times down to a decent level — and then look at refreshing the product line.”

The details of that refresh are being kept close to the company’s chest for now, but Pedersen said, in the short term, operators could expect to see enhancements from rotor blade manufacturers Van Horn Aviation and Helicopter Technology Company that will offer performance improvements and noise reduction.

MD 500E to F-model conversions are also in high demand, Pedersen said. Four are planned for this year, but the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to transform the conversion to a technical bulletin. This would allow MD Authorized Service Centers to perform the upgrade, rather than requiring aircraft to be shipped to MD’s headquarters in Mesa, Arizona, as is currently the case. MD hopes to complete this process in the third quarter of 2023.

In terms of new aircraft production, the company is focusing on the MD 530F and the militarized version of the type — the Cayuse Warrior.

The future for the MD 902, MD 600N, and MD 520N lines is unclear — as it is for the NOTAR anti-torque system. The 902 production line has been “dormant for eight to 10 years” said Pedersen.

MD Helicopters’ Ed Dolanski (left, chair of the board of directors) and Brad Pedersen (right, president and CEO) address media ahead of HAI Heli-Expo 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. Brent Bundy Photo

“There is a lot of interest in [the 902] — in new aircraft — but it’s also fairly expensive to re-establish the production line. We’re looking at all options right now and we truly don’t have a plan.”

He said one MD 520N customer has been waiting two years for a tail boom. “The supply chain has gone dormant,” he said. “Those are the things we all have to deal with… I don’t think we can get by with just selling F models. I think we have to have a broader portfolio.”

He emphasized that the company is still supporting the 902, 600N and 520N “where we can.”

MD delivered just four aircraft last year, but is targeting 19 deliveries in 2023. Pedersen said it was “on track” to build more than 24 next year. The production line will be at capacity this year, and is “almost full” for 2024, he said.

To help meet the required ramp up in production and support, the company is attempting to recruit 130 additional staff — craftspeople, sheet metal technicians and assemblers.

The 50-aircraft target in 2025 would include a 50/50 mix of military and commercial, said Pedersen, and the aircraft would likely have some of the product improvements the company is currently developing.

“We will get a helicopter that provides more utility to the customer, whether it’s more lift, [or] more fuel efficiency,” he said.

Fifty aircraft would be the upper limit of capacity at MD’s current facility in Mesa, but Pedersen said the facility could be expanded if required.

As for where this growth would come from, Pedersen said the company is primarily targeting military, utility and law enforcement customers, while he also sees growth in the VIP market.

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